Ayllu de Larache, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile
The Atacama Desert's original upscale lodge is still in many ways the best, with lots of prime space near the town center and the longest list of daily excursions on foot, hoof, or wheels.
Adventure–minded explorers will feel perfectly at ease in the casual REI meets upscale IKEA environs of explora. After a series of well–designed renovations and a welcome cuisine reboot, public spaces of this early–90s property convey a sleek, user–friendly self that is design mag–worthy, yet comfortable. Minimalist spaces in the main building sprawl, with clean blonde wood floors, chic deco chairs, and sexy, low–slung coffee tables.
On the first night at Hotel de Larache, guests get an orientation in the Exploration Office. Excursions are determined on a day-by-day basis with each guest according to ability and desire. You are encouraged to check the daily updated chalkboard of available excursions posted in the lobby. Explora was the first local pioneer in excursions and has set the standard with its travesias and "get out of the hotel" philosophy. The area's largest group of guides-most of who house together on property, a true testament to their passion—offer more than 50 different adventures.
The equipment area is outfitted with the latest gear and guest lockers, while nearby, large bottles of water hang from the wall for easy water bottle refills. Nuts and dried fruit are put out in bowls for the packing. Explora also offers an equestrian program that is clearly the best in area. And for stargazing enthusiasts, they boast the largest privately owned telescope in San Pedro de Atacama for a fascinating, not–to–miss activity.
Fifty rooms flank the 42-acre property, lined up side–by–side in an almost stable-like formation around attractive cobblestone courtyards. Standard rooms are a bit too casual to truly define five-star luxury. Instead they conjure up swanky grown–up camp accommodations–albeit with electronic safes and a nice selection of toiletries. They have slate floors, white washed adobe walls, wooden beam ceilings (some with skylights), and a wall of windows boasting Andes Mountain views. Bright yellow hues and blue tones—said to ward off evil spirits—and bold plaid bedspreads add to the homespun feeling.
Instead, if you are seeking luxury accommodations, the four suites are more likely to please. Far superior in style, these airy rooms afford about 50% more space. Suite Catur 4 is highly recommended. Keep in mind this is an adventure lodge though: no TVs and very little chance of picking up the Wi–Fi signal in your room.
Although there are romantic enclaves to be found on site if you seek them—especially at any one of the four pools, saunas, steam baths, or hot tubs in a dramatic area removed from the other buildings—this is not a property for those wishing for a lot of privacy. The dining room is a prime example of this lack of intimacy. Large and stylish, it feels more like a chic cafeteria than a destination for haute cuisine. Few seem to mind though as the designer furniture, pretty plates, and good wine produce plenty of smiles.
The kitchen's delicious food is a highlight and guests who had stayed before raved about the dramatic improvement from just a year or two ago. At breakfast, quinoa with apples and cherimoya juice provided the perfect tasty fuel for a day of physical exertion. Lunch is a la carte indoors or out, with good Chilean wine. At night, soups, salads, lamb, and fish dishes shine and if occupancy is high, the hotel might put on a barbeque in a separate adobe building on site. Service is casual and friendly, but the bartenders are quick and there's a pervasive lively atmosphere.
Hotel guests tend to be friendly, outgoing, and quick to converse, especially during sunset over a nice cold Cusqueña at the lovely, backlit, horseshoe shaped bar. Others swap travel stories over the extensive library of travel magazines, photo books, and related travelogues. The amount and variety of reading material offered is an absolute treat. It's common to see people uploading photos on their laptops or blogging about their day in the lobby: it's the only place on property with (complimentary) Wi-Fi. Two public computers are also available near the small, but carefully stocked gift shop.
In comparison to other top local hotels, Explora cannot stake claim as the most luxurious property in San Pedro de Atacama, but for outdoor adventurers who care more about the guided activities, it cannot be beat. Service, accommodations and amenities are all well-intentioned and for travelers who like a highly interactive, social experience, packed with plenty of physical exertion, this is the spot to explore.
Web Address: explora.com/atacama
Total Number of Rooms: 50
Published rates: $1,980 to $3,090 per person based on double occupancy for an all-inclusive 3 night stay.